31
Jan
10

Scotland sprouts a lead when it comes to wind power

Back in the 80’s when it was cool to roll up your jacket sleeves and have a mullet I was blowing up electrical generators in Stamford – a small quiet town in Lincs and occasionally in Rutland. It was my first job – I designed analogue electronic circuitry for the control and occasional destruction of AC generators (only in the lab I hasten to add).

I learned a lot, but by the time I was actually becoming useful it was time to come back to Scotchland – I was missing Irn Bru, Scotch Pies, Hills and fast running rivers and burns.

The AC generators we made at Newage Engineers in Stamford were used throughout the planet but the one I remember most was when a bunch of Dutch folks attached the genny to a Windmill (as I called it then) or a Wind Turbine as it is called now (and probably then as well).

I only saw the pictures of the Dutch turbine – a thing of rare beauty and great size in picture 1. However, picture 2 told a different story.

It was early days for sucking electricity out the sky and the folks that had built the system (not us) made a rather simple mistake. The software folks had decided that if the turbine went round too fast (cos it was too windy) they would disconnect the load from it – to ensure nothing got broken. Sounds sensible…. Just let the turbine go round as fast as it wants and don’t let it break anything attached to it – yeh… that makes sense.

However, anyone who has a modest amount of forward thinking capability will know that a turbine spinning out of control is exactly that….. out of control. When the turbine went overspeed the load was disconnected by the software protection system and the turbine went round even faster – so fast that it broke from its mounts and tore into the terrain around it.

So picture 2 showed a mangled mess of large and heavy propeller blades as if an airplane had carried out an emergency landing in a field full of tulips (ok that’s an exaggeration – no tulips were hurt in the making of that cock up).

It was an image that stuck with me and it came back the other night at a Thrive Business event in Edinburgh where Alistair MacKinnon, Business Manager at TUV NEL, was running through a potted history of wind turbines and the opportunities presented by the new green power agenda. It was an interesting presentation.

Before the presentation (I must admit) I had been a bit suspicious of politicians claiming that Scotland was ahead of the game in wind and wave power generation. Turns out though we are.

Alastair wasn’t the only expert in the room at the Energy specific event so by the time I left I was a lot wiser about the reality of the situation in Scotland. This was a rather refreshing experience.

Back in the 80’s one of the drivers for me heading home to the old country was the need to see the Scottish scenery of hills and fast flowing water. And it seems at that same time early developments were already underway to ensure that we could extract power from that same scenery. I was blissfully unaware of that. Now the industry is showing signs of maturing almost 30 years later. 

Like many folks I’d rather not see our hills and seas sprout propellers but it’s clear we need alternatives and if that is the case then it is rather exciting to hear from the practitioners rather than the politicians that Scotland is ahead of the game when it comes to Small Wind (make up your own jokes) and wave.

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